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Trent Researcher Examines Migration and Citizenship on International Stage

Dr. Winnie Lem studies difficult and dangerous journey migrants face on road to citizenship

As immigration policies around the world are being debated and discussed, and the current global geopolitical climate shifts, Trent University’s Dr. Winnie Lem, is conducting extremely timely research on how migrants are made into citizens.

Professor Lem’s current work, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) focuses on how migrants respond to citizenship-making projects that are disseminated through migrant-focused institutions at the supranational, national and local levels.

“At the local level, the research focuses on programs that local NGOs provide to help migrants settle,” says Prof. Lem, who teaches in the International Development Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies departments. “I address the question of how such programs intervene in the processes of citizens’ formation. In one NGO in Paris, a program exists which focuses on undocumented women migrants who turn to sex work in order to make a living. Such programs attempt to get them off the streets by offering training in ways of making a living primarily as entrepreneurs. This emphasis on entrepreneurship is consistent with national and supranational policy priorities of stimulating growth economies. But the citizen/entrepreneur model of social inclusion is limiting.”

Citizenship, in a very basic sense, refers to the rights, duties and membership in a political community of some sort—usually a nation state. However, citizenship in France, for example, is complicated by the European Union, in which formal citizenship in one EU country entitles people to rights, duties and membership in other EU countries. The emergence of the EU has been accompanied by a process of de-nationalizing citizenship.

Some of the problems facing migrants wanting citizenship include, for example, years of unemployment and living in deteriorating suburban housing estates. Prof. Lem states that in recession-era France, “in the aftermath of student protests, there have been intensified attempts by the French state to curb immigration and re-define the boundaries of what an acceptable citizenry should be. In other words, a model citizen and therefore a model immigrant would be compliant and not challenge state authorities.”

Of greatest concern to migrants wanting to become citizens, is “being incorporated into the society and economy equally as citizens.” Prof. Lem goes on to add that migrants wish, “to become documented and recognized for having made contributions to the economy.” This is becoming difficult as most national governments officially condemn undocumented migration but unofficially turn a blind eye to it. “These hypocrisies are not lost on undocumented workers who feel after years of undertaking the ‘dirty dangerous and demeaning’ jobs in the economy, they have exercised their duties and so have a right to legal residency, and eventual formal citizenship.”

Posted on January 25, 2018

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